U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Puerto Rico Police seized nearly 1,125 kilograms of cocaine, with an estimated whole sale value of $37 million, and apprehended two Dominican Republic nationals during an at sea interdiction in the Caribbean Sea Wednesday.
The interdiction is the result of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group’s Operation Caribbean Guard and the Coast Guard’s Operation Unified Resolve.
During a routine Caribbean patrol, the crew of a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Air Station Miami detected a 35-foot go-fast vessel with two outboard engines and three persons onboard, traveling northbound without any navigation lights, south of Puerto Rico Tuesday night.
Coast Guard Sector San Juan watchstanders diverted the Coast Guard Cutters Drummond and Farallon and launched an armed Coast Guard helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen to interdict the suspect vessel. Customs and Border Protection Caribbean Air and Marine Branch and the Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid action were also notified and launched marine units to interdict the suspect vessel.
The Coast Guard HC-144 maintained near-constant surveillance of the go-fast vessel as the armed Coast Guard helicopter arrived on scene and fired warning shots in an attempt to get the suspects to stop.
When the vessel did not comply, the helicopter crew fired at and disabled one of the vessel’s engines, prompting the suspected smugglers to jettison the contraband overboard. A Customs and Border Protection marine unit along with marine units from Puerto Rico Police then intercepted the vessel, and a law enforcement team from the Coast Guard Cutter Drummond embarked the suspects.
Capt. Drew W. Pearson, Commander, Coast Guard Sector San Juan said: “The airborne use of force expertly applied by the Coast Guard helicopter crew to stop this vessel should serve as a serious deterrent to smugglers to know they will be caught and brought to justice.”
During interviews with the suspects, it was discovered the third person jumped overboard to avoid apprehension as law enforcement units approached the disabled vessel. The Coast Guard conducted a large scale search for the missing person that lasted 34 hours and covered 546 square miles before suspending search efforts Thursday night. While searching for the missing person Coast Guard active duty and Auxiliary crews located and subsequently recovered 45 bales of contraband from the water, which later tested positive for cocaine.
The two apprehended smugglers, the seized cocaine, and the suspect’s vessel were transferred in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to Customs and Border Protection officers and Drug Enforcement Agency agents for processing and prosecution.
USCG, May 7, 2014